There are two types of Jason Statham roles. There’s the adrenalized, testosterone-fueled shit-kicking bad ass that you see in movies like Crank and The Transporter, and then there’s the more introspective and brooding bad ass that you might see in a movie like The Bank Job. Personally, I prefer to watch Statham go Red Bull on some thugs and fuck Amy Smart up against a newspaper stall in Chinatown, but even when you’re dealing with the mopey Statham, he’s still bad ass. It’s in the man’s DNA.
The Mechanic is vintage brood-y Statham. Where a movie like Crank is a series of violent scenes punctuated by exposition, The Mechanic is a more moody, quiet affair punctuated by an intermittent crescendo of violence. Ben Foster is the ideal companion for Statham. It’s The Brood versus The Scowl, and while Foster can out-act Statham, he doesn’t have the physique or the British accent. Still, Ben Foster and Jason Statham in one movie? That’s a lot of bad ass with which to contend.
It’d have been nice if Simon West had done more with the pairing, but there’s only so much the director of Con Air can do with his limited faculties. In fact, The Mechanic makes a decent companion piece to George Clooney’s The American. Anton Corbijn’s film was a quiet introspective arthouse film about the interior life of a hitman; The Mechanic is an approximation to The American if it had had Statham instead of Clooney, Corbijn instead of West, a love interest instead of a drinking buddy. The American is by far the better film, but The Mechanic is the more entertaining one. It doesn’t take a lot.
Statham plays Arthur Bishop, hitman, introvert, the lone ranger type, as they’re oft to be. He’s brilliant at what he does: Stage his murders as accidental deaths and leave no trace behind. He lives the solitary life, and his only friend is his handler, Harry (Donald Sutherland). Things get sticky, however, when Bishop is assigned to kill Harry. He pulls it off, but not without some guilt, and he’s left with Harry’s baggage in the form of his wayward fuck-up of a son, Steve (Ben Foster). Steve doesn’t know that Arthur killed his Dad, but Arthur — feeling that remorse — takes Steve in and trains him in the art of hired assassin. Steve’s a temperamental fuck-up, but he also gives Arthur companionship, and the two find a comfortably quiet chemistry.
But The Mechanic is not the warm, fuzzy type of movie where Steven and Arthur kindle their bromance over an assassination of a Columbian drug lord and a couple of martinis. It’s the briskly paced and, at times, darkly intense action thriller that you’d expect of a remake that originally starred Charles Bronson. Statham’s a better fit than Bronson, who had the raw manliness down, but Statham also has the magnetism that Bronson rarely displayed. Add to that the tightly wound Ben Foster, who elevates everything he’s in, and the result is a fast film that’s not quite the sum of its parts, but it makes for a passably gritty, at times messy diversion that rises ever so slightly above the tepid script and the soulless and shoddy directing style of Simon West. It’s suitable for the Netflix queue, right above all the documentaries you’ve saved but will never actually watch.